Friday, November 23, 2001


BEIJING China is tightening control over ethnic Uighur Muslims in its tense Xinjiang province, detaining people for showing signs of dissent or for meeting with foreigners and forbidding many from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, sources said last week.

More than 3,000 Uighurs have been detained since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, many simply for showing any kind of dissatisfaction with the Chinese government, the German-based Uighur group, the East Turkestan Information Center, said.

Among those detained was a group of seven Uighurs who worked for a travel agency and met with foreign tourists after work, said Dilixat Raxit, the group’s spokesman.

“They were investigated for one month. The people they met with were only tourists,” Mr. Raxit said. Six of them have been released.

The incident is similar to one reported by a French tourist who said he was interrogated for nine hours last month after he and two other tourists had dinner with a friendly Uighur woman they met during their visit to Xinjiang in China’s northwest.

The tourist said police were waiting for them when they returned to their hotel and demanded to know where they had been and why they had spent time at the woman’s house.

“They interrogated us in two rooms. They told us to drive them to where we were. They went back to the girl’s home and took her ID card. We tried to call her later to find out how she is, but we couldn’t reach her,” he said.

Mr. Raxit said the current situation in Xinjiang is so tense that Muslims are afraid of speaking with the majority Han Chinese, whom the government has over the years encouraged to move into a previously Uighur-dominated Xinjiang.

“To the Han Chinese, they dare only smile. Many are even afraid to refuse a cigarette during Ramadan, or defend himself in a fight for fear of being labeled a separatist,” he said.

Some of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs want a separate state of East Turkestan, and sporadic riots and bombings over the years in Xinjiang province have been blamed on Uighur separatists.

The latest reports seem to back up claims by human rights groups that Beijing is using the global anti-terrorism campaign to step up repression of Uighurs it fears hold separatists tendencies.

Local and overseas sources said China has ordered Xinjiang Muslims in universities and schools to ignore religious rules during the holy month of Ramadan, forbidding them from fasting and ordering women not to tie scarves around their heads.

A member of the staff at Kashgar Teachers’ Training College in western Xinjiang on Saturday told AFP the school has banned fasting in previous years, but was increasing pressure on students since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The university’s Communist Party committee has conducted many “anti-separatism” meetings for students, he said.

“Between 4:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., students cannot turn on the lights because school officials don’t want to make it easy for them to fast during Ramadan [by eating before dawn],” he said.

“Teachers and administrators have been asked to sign statements saying they will accept responsibility if any student in their class is caught fasting.”

Last month, a female student was expelled for disobeying school orders to stop performing the five-times-a-day prayers that all devout Muslims perform, he said. She was praying in her dorm room when discovered.

Forty religious leaders were called to a three-day meeting in the capital, Urumqi, which ended last Friday, in which they were shown anti-American videos portraying Muslims in America being attacked and afraid to leave home after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Raxit said.

This was deemed necessary because Beijing was wary of increasing American influence in Afghanistan, which borders Xinjiang, the group said.

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